by Barbara Walvoord
If you walked down Mulberry Lane across the bridge between 3 and 4 p.m. on May 21, and looked down the incline into the woods, you would have seen a strange sight: Some Lathrop residents down amongst the wild flowers and bushes, bending over, picking plants up by the roots and putting the plants into pails. Gloria Russell did walk by, and gave the volunteers an encouraging cheer.
The residents down there were Roger Herman, Diedrick Snoek, Sharon Grace, and Barbara Walvoord. The plants they were pulling are garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), which is in bloom right now and will soon go to seed.
Garlic mustard is “one of the worst invaders of forests in the American Northeast and Midwest,” according to Cornell University’s New York Invasive Species Clearinghouse. Garlic mustard can spread even into undisturbed areas and is “one of the very few non-native plants to be able to successfully invade forest understories.” When it does invade, it changes the soil composition to be less hospitable to other plants. If left unchecked, it could become the dominant plant in our Lathrop forest understory, and could thus significantly decrease diversity. http://nyis.info/index.php?action=invasive_detail&id=25
Like most alien plants, garlic mustard fails to offer our native insects the food they need. Worse, it fools a rare butterfly native to our area–the West Virginia white butterfly–into laying its eggs on the garlic mustard plant, thinking it’s a familiar native. But fewer of the little caterpillars hatch, and those that do are poisoned by the garlic mustard. When you remember that it takes hundreds of caterpillars just to raise one brood of songbirds, the death of any caterpillars takes on new significance.
Garlic mustard is just beginning to spread on some small patches of Lathrop land, and we want to get it out before it takes over and becomes a discouraging, hopeless mess, as it is on many neighboring properties. Just one plant can produce thousands (!) of seeds, and the seeds stay viable in the soil for up to seven years, so garlic mustard is a formidable opponent. However, it’s shallow rooted and thus easy to remove just by pulling. So Sharon Grace, Adele Dowell, other residents, and I have been working last year and this spring to remove it from the areas where we’ve spotted it, and Thursday’s volunteers finished the job. We have now removed all the garlic mustard that we have seen on the east campus.